June 29, 2010

We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

In a few days, we will celebrate the "birthday of the United States of America"-July 4th. This marks the day in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress. While there are numerous phrases from the Declaration that are instantly recognizable, i.e. "When in the course of human events …", "… we hold these truths be self-evident, that all men are created equal …", "… deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …", it is notable that we don't often take the time to read this important document in its entirety. By taking a few minutes to do so, we can gain a stronger appreciation and understanding for the underlying concerns and principles that brought about the creation of the United States of America some 234 years ago.

The story of how the Declaration of Independence was developed is well-known. It was written primarily by Thomas Jefferson as a formal explanation as to why the thirteen American colonies were ready to declare their independence from Great Britain. It justifies this action through a list of grievances against the King of England in addition to asserting that humans have a set of "unalienable rights". At the time of the signing, the colonies had been at war with Great Britain for more than a year, although the relationship between the two had been deteriorating for much longer. The British Parliament had forced a series of tax increases on the colonies to help pay off the debt it had incurred during the Seven Years' War. The colonists deeply resented this, arguing that Parliament had no right to levy taxes on those in America.

The list of grievances make up nearly half of the Declaration and run the gamut: ignoring the needs of the colonists, operating a corrupt government, obstructing justice through various means, neglecting fair representation for the colonists, military infractions and occupations, and perhaps most well-known, imposing taxes without consent. The list is really quite shocking, and reading it is well worth your time. Some of it may even ring true to you today.

The Declaration lays out a classic argument: a set of beliefs, efforts to adhere to those beliefs, how those beliefs are being trampled by another power and how those writing the document plan to deal with this. The conclusion is nearly as well-known as the introduction: "We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." Those who signed the document, those who represented the people of the thirteen colonies, were aware of the consequences of their actions. They knew what they were doing, but they believed strongly that this Declaration would stand as a testament of how people should be governed.

The Constitution wasn't ratified for another twelve years; it sets up the framework of our government. While the Constitution is the supreme law of our country, the Declaration of Independence could be considered our soul. The Declaration of Independence gave birth of the ideas that permeate our system of government: all men are equal, we have certain natural rights, we should choose our government system. It is not surprising that Abraham Lincoln considered that the Declaration of Independence expressed the highest principles of the American Revolution.

So, as part of your celebrations of the 4th, make some time to read this 1,337-word document that is so important to our country's birth and government. Remind yourself of why we are celebrating our country's birthday and enjoy the opportunities and advantages we have by living in the United States of America.

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